The Wall Street Journal sounded the death-knoll for business schools back in 1985. Applications were dropping. Mass closures were on the cards. The same headlines have appeared periodically since. Eight years later the New York Times headlined with “Business Schools Hit Hard Times Amid Doubt Over Value of MBA”. Last year it was Forbes asking “Is the MBA Obsolete?” If you scan the latest stories on business sites and in magazines, it seems to be in fashion to give the impression that innovation and talent trumps education. But is it true?
What is true is that the nature of business has changed. Lines of communication have evolved. Globalisation has opened up new markets and competition is fierce. Innovation is now a global catch-cry and anyone with a half-baked idea is trying to sell it. Yet we are still short of quality business managers.
In reality, it isn’t a competition between natural talent and formal education. We need both. What is important is that business schools adapt their style of teaching. They must ensure our next generation of leaders are learning techniques relevant to today. In America alone, 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. These are the people who have been our business leaders for the past 30 years and we are struggling to replace them.
Business schools know this. They also know the demands on modern managers are unique in the information age. Yale rewrote its curriculum back in 2006 and continues to regularly review it. Wharton rolled out a whole new plan last year. We are seeing a shift to customized courses tailored for 21st century enterprise. There is a greater focus on trouble-shooting, problem solving and communication skills, as I see from my own position on the Lancaster MBA programme where I’m part of Peter Lenney’s and Chris Saunders’ Mindful Manager initiative.
Business isn’t just about brilliant product, it’s about people (ideally, both brilliant). Success will come from ensuring that young people who have chosen business as their career have the right knowledge, skills and attitudes to lead.